Author attacks inequities in U.S. education system

Ashima Singal

Poor children are being deprived of educational opportunity, legendary education activist Jonathan Kozol said on Tuesday night.

When he makes those statements, Kozol said he thinks of Mario, a kindergartner with a face that looked like an olive with a smile painted on it, who is featured in one of Kozol’s many books.

Author of the acclaimed book, “Savage Inequalities,” he has worked with kids like Mario for more than 30 years. About 205 people came to Owen L. Coon Forum to hear him speak anecdotally about his experiences. Kozol turned his stories into serious points about education and the need for reform.

Kozol is a Harvard alumnus and Rhodes scholar, but he is most well-known for being fired from his 4th grade teaching job after reading Langston Hughes poems.

“At Harvard everyone talked like they were British even if were from Utah,” Kozol said as the crowd began to chuckle.

Then he shifted and said his Harvard peers send their kids, “baby Ivys,” for private preschool that costs about $20,000 a year.

“There’s not even a pretense of meritocracy,” Kozol said. “I’m not unreasonable. I’m saying if it’s good for them, it’s good for the poorest children.”

He visited a number of cities across the nation studying segregation, “the modern form of apartheid.” Segregation is everywhere, not just a Southern problem, he said. His usually deep and steady voice shook when he discussed different spending levels for children.

“The ones I write about are cheap babies.,” he said. “They have a price tag written on their foreheads.”

The suburban school districts of New Trier, Lake Forest and Highland Park spend about $14,000 per pupil. In comparison, Kozol said, Chicago spends $8,500 per student.

Politicians only pretend to be interested in education, he said.

“I hate it when politicians show up (at an event) for one day, but through their behavior they utterly betray the children,” he said.

NU students read Kozol’s books sociology classes and classes in the School of Education, said Education junior Marcia Walker. Attending the event made Kozol seem more real through the “softer” tone of his speech, she added.

“Sometimes we get so bogged down with statistics … but hearing about the individual give you more motivation,” Walker said.

The event was co-sponsored by Hillel Cultural Life, Northwestern Community Development Corps, and For Members Only.

Zach Galin, an Education sophomore, said it was a dream to finally have Kozol come to campus.

Reach Ashima Singal at [email protected]